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Is being bad at games really so terrible?

Ellie Gibson investigates.

Life as a tabloid journalist must be pretty tough these days. Not only is it illegal to listen to the private voicemail messages of murdered teenagers, you can't even get away with trying to falsely imprison former members of N-Dubz. So what else are you supposed to write about?

OK, so the Middle East is on fire, Britain is on the brink of a constitutional crisis, and America could be about to hand the presidency to a rust-coloured serial groper who fancies his own daughter. But here's the real story, as reported by the Daily Mirror earlier this month: 'MAN IS CRAP AT VIDEO GAME - DOES SWEAR'.

I'm paraphrasing the headline, but they really did publish an entire article about how comedian Jason Manford is a bit rubbish at FIFA. This became apparent when he appeared on Dave TV show Dara O Briain's Go 8 Bit, which still hasn't got a confirmed second series, despite being an absolutely massive hit, MONKEY TENNIS.

Manford blamed his poor performance on the controller, and even pulled out the old classic: "My buttons are wrong." To make matters worse, as the Mirror put it, "Manford was pitted against Sam Pamphilon - a man who hates computer games." (Insider goss: Sam Pamphilon does not really hate computer games. He has a jolly ambivalence towards them which he exploits to dramatic effect in exchange for money.)

He's thinking of turning Pro Evo.

Why do we care so much if people are terrible at playing video games? And some of us really do care, it seems. One of the most common criticisms levelled at Go 8 Bit on Twitter is that the celebrity contestants are dreadful players. This is true in some instances, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing. Competence is dull; so is perfection, if there's nothing to compare it with. Plus, Britain loves losers - they allow us to partake in the popular national pastime of feeling superior to someone while laughing at them.

I have first-hand experience in this area. Over the course of my reviewing career I've read endless comments stating I have no right to criticise games, because I obviously can't even play them, on account of owning a vagina. (Surprising fact: I actually hold the controller with my hands, just like everybody else. Unless it's a PlayStation Move.)

The truth is, yes, there are many games I am rubbish at. Specifically the ones that require focus, patience, and lightning-fast reflexes - so all first-person shooters. I am so bad at beat-em-ups it makes me want to punch myself in the face. My FIFA skills make Jason Manford look like a cross between Pele, David Beckham, and Ross out of Jossy's Giants. I prefer games where you just race around smashing stuff up, such as Burnout or Ratchet and Clank. Or action adventures like The Last of Us, where you can choose different routes through the level (i.e. run away.)

And I always pick the Easy difficulty setting. It's not that I don't like a challenge - it's more about possessing a crushing sense of mortality. The thing I like most about video games is the way they offer new worlds to explore, and experiences to share. I'd like to enjoy these in full, especially if I've just parted with the best part of 40 quid. But when you live with the inescapable knowledge that our finite time on this planet is constantly slipping away with each sonorous tick of the giant cosmic clock of death, who wants to spend four hours getting past that hard bit with the lasers?

I've never really admitted all this before, at least not on the internet. Because there is a great shame attached to being rubbish at games. And those who perpetuate this often throw in the weird idea that if you're no good at something, it doesn't belong to you, and you shouldn't be allowed to do it.

Lord Sugar's beard could do with a bit of a trim.

I don't understand this. Years ago, I had a friend called Mike. We used to love playing the classic SNES platformer Donkey Kong Country. This is one of the games I am good at, and have even completed ("101* per cent"!)

Mike was terrible at it. He bowled around the levels like an armadillo trapped in a wheelie bin, narrating his own performance all the while: "Jump, monkey, jump! Aaaaa monkey fell down the hole. Oh no, pirate crocodiles! Aaaaa monkey dead." I found it hilarious and endearing. We spent many happy days like this, which is how we both ended up with 2.1s.

These days, I get to enjoy the spectacle of someone being crap at Donkey Kong Country all over again thanks to my five year-old son. He's no better at video games than he is at playing football, which for him mainly involves standing still on the pitch while lost in some reverie about Transformers or marshmallows or why dogs can't talk, then launching into a feverish Riverdance should the ball accidentally touch his feet.

But I'd never tell him he's dreadful at football. (I'll just write about it on the internet, then wait till he's old enough to Google my articles, and try to explain it away along with all the references to bum sex.) I'd certainly never tell him he has no right to do something he loves, just because he's not a natural.

So why is it OK to judge adults when it comes to video games? To suggest their access to them should be determined by their abilities?

Nonsense, I say. Rubbish gamers of the world unite. Let us embrace our inability to drive round a corner properly in Gran Turismo. Let us be proud of that time we couldn't get through the door on the first level of Gears of War, although to be fair the in-game tutorial wasn't very clear and we were spectacularly drunk. Let us join our sausage-fingered hands together and say, yes, we are losers. We are all Jason Manford. All our buttons are wrong. And we are not ashamed.

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About the Author
Ellie Gibson avatar

Ellie Gibson


Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.